Power to the lego people.

Image courtesy of my amazing grade 9 class.

When we talk about visual literacy we need to avoid the echo chamber of a ‘faculty only’ conversation.  Most teachers I talk to will agree it is important.  Most teachers I know online demonstrate their own keen awareness of how powerful visuals are.  But when and where do we make room for our students to think about the place visual literacy has in their school experience?

During the third week of Course Three, we considered the following question:

How does the ability to use, create and/or manipulate imagery foster effective communication?
I have long thought about this question in regards to my own presentation design.  I wanted to get out of the way of my students, and allow them to answer that question within their own peer groups.
One of the IBDP LP signs made by my 9th grade English class
One of the IB Learner Profile signs made by my 9th grade English class

I asked my students to select one of the following decks I had created for our classroom essential agreements:

Harkness Table Talk Expectations – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

IB Learner Profile – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires
From there, students selected their own teams, and decided on the resources they wanted to use for their remixes.  We spent about 15 minutes workshopping our editing skills with Picmonkey. We spent a quick 10 minutes thinking about the rule of thirds, and how it makes a difference in images we create. Lastly, we had a short discussion about the purpose,  and underlying themes we wanted to communicate in our images.  In order to do this, students had to think about the existing themes with the IB Learner Profile as well as our Harkness Table Talk guidelines.  In doing so, students had authentic conversations about the foundation of our classroom experiences.  As curators, students needed to unpack the nuances of our essential agreements.  As a teacher, I began to rethink the ‘real estate’ value of the signage spaces in my classroom.  Too many teachers dominate the signage ownership.  It is quick, easy, and effective to whip together another Haiku Deck for my room.  It is complicated, challenging, and a time commitment to hand this responsibility over to our students.  But it shifts the narrator of the classroom story.  No class should be told from a teacher’s first person perspective all the time.  Empowering our students to tackle the story-telling of our classroom norms means rewriting the dialogue to be open-ended.

One of the crucial understanding in this course is:

  • Audience and purpose behind your communication affect how and what you communicate.

When students make and communicate for their community, we also unpack why we value communication as a collaborative skill.

If we want to educate our school community about the power of the Creative Commons movement we need to give them ample experience as creators.  The more students construct their own signage, blogposts, music, videos–the more they understand the need for reuse, the joy of the remix, and the pride of creating something valuable to someone somewhere else.

Another creative interpretation of one of our values.
Another creative interpretation of one of our values.

I wanted to share the story of the risk I took in taking time away from ‘the curriculum,’ to get to the core of why we do the things we do in my classroom.  Scratch that, in OUR classroom.  Yes, we need students to carve out their own online learning spaces through blogging and Twitter.  We also need them to have room to communicate on our physical classroom walls.  We often become so obsessed with moving forward with our lessons, that we ignore the signs for ‘rest stops,’ along the way.  If we want our students to be effective content curators, we need to allow them the time and space to practice those skills in authentic, but low stakes situations.  Although this lesson in design, curation, and values assessment wasn’t on our unit planner–it was essential.  I wanted to share that story with other teachers.  When we prepare our students to collaborate on our needed classroom decor–wonderful things happen.  Thanks to COETAIL, I am more ‘design-minded,’ and from here on out, I hope to start with the following question the next time I need to design something:

“Would this be a more authentic experience if I helped facilitate the curation of this by students rather than all by myself?”

Shouldn’t the design of any classroom be a shared responsibility?

I hope my video invites other classes to think about creating and sharing their own version of the IB Learner Profile or other essential agreements.  Please leave me a comment on other ideas for sharing the role of classroom design among all the stakeholders. Thanks!



See, Think, Be Wonderful

“Riding The Wave of New Media” photo credit: me

“Ten years ago infographics were as common as tigers in Siberia, but the rise of social media has fuelled the need for instant, bite-sized chunks of digestible information, and the past three years has seen a massive increase in them.” – Ian Gould. To read more on that click here.

As an IBDP Language and Literature teacher, I’m preparing my students for more than literary analysis.  Today I’m responsible for making sure students graduate with minds savvy enough to decode Taylor Swift lyrics, memes, infographics, Tumblr posts like these, and so very much more.

“Today’s teens spend more than 71 / 2 hours a day consuming media — watching TV, listening to music, surfing the Web, social networking, and playing video games, according to a 2010 study of 8- to 18-year-olds conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation.” – from this Washington Post article

Today’s English teacher needs to prepare students for a passport to the media-rich world, not merely a library card.

Decoding an infographic can be as complex as reading a Billy Collins poem.  You need look at the way color schemes work together to establish tone, analyze the choice of certain fonts, critique the cooperation between image and text. It is equally important to think about the context in which the infographic is published, shared–and what in the world news makes it relevant to the audience.  How does the organization of the infographic work with the overall theme?  Technology is allowing us to do more with language today than ever before.

One of my very favorite infographics looks at at the different types of collaborative styles we may meet in our schools, at our workplaces, and beyond. Click here to check it out. From a Language and Literature perspective, my students could break down the way the author has personified the notion of that style.  Ultimately–I use this as a reminder with students that when we are working in teams, we want to be flexible in our approach, and we also need to value the different skills that different personalities bring to the table.  Learning to work well with others is one of the most valuable approaches to learning we need to unpack…constantly.

Part Two of the IBDP Language and Literature course focuses on Media Institutions and the way they are constantly reshaping the way we define and come to understand the world we live in.

Journalism is undergoing a massive evolution thanks to Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.  This amazing infographic does well to unpack the logos behind this ongoing shift:
Social Media: The New News Source
Courtesy of: https://www.schools.com

My grade 12 students will be preparing for an end of year exam known as the Paper 1.  This exam will be worth 25% of their overall grade.  The exam asks Higher Level students to analyze a pairing of texts, find commonalities and difference and make thematic connections.  Texts are determined by the IB, and they can be anything from a cartoon, essay, passage from a novel, lyrics from a song, to…(you guessed it) an infographic.  I’d love to partner up the infographic above with another text type looking at the way our news will continue to evolve.  Please feel free to suggest a wonderful partner text as a comment below.



Storytime Open House

Photo Credit: BRICK 101 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: foilman via Compfight cc

It’s been a while since I’ve remixed the IB Learner Profile.

I’ve made a few versions of it via Haiku Deck, like this one here.

And I still love the remix version I made inspired by ‘texts from Hillary.’

I want to take a step back from narrating this digital story.  Instead, I want to ask my students to take the lead.  There is no shortage of amazing Creative Commons images featuring beloved Lego friends, just check out Compfight for evidence of that.  But what if my students made their own CC images with Lego to retell the story of the IB Learner Profile?

Will everything be awesome?

Can I encourage other teachers around the world to make their own IB Learner Profile digital stories too?  Could we share our work and examine the different perspectives we take?

According to the Digital Storytelling Process, I think I’ve just come up with my proposal for anyone reading this right now.  If you’d like to connect with me, please just leave a comment.  I think this could be the beginning to a really rad story…

Photo Credit: Ken Whytock via Compfight cc

Turning back time

Two years ago, Paula Baxter put Presentation Zen in my hands. Since then, the Reynolds book is a staple in my ‘recommended summer reading’ letter for high school students.  It is a wonderful guide for understanding how to distill your message, and be more mindful of those in your audience.

Another guru of presentation design is Seth Godin, and his work here is worth your time.  Both texts remind us that a presentation is meant to ENGAGE the audience, not simply make them sit through what should have been your speaker notes.

The best presentations do so much more than inform.  They inspire.

We can only build inspirational presentations when we have the following ingredients:

a) time

b) an authentic understanding of where this material needs to go (a focused purpose)

c) someone to bounce ideas around with

d) an open minded community

Inspired presentations are not about the tech.  They aren’t about the sound equipment, the stage, the mic, the devices or the lighting.  Inspired presentations are about the people.  When do we make our fellow colleagues feel safe to fail?  Safe to share a story? Safe to ask for more time to get it right?  Safe to ask others for help?

“The one thing that all successful people have in common is persistence,”
Garr Reynolds, The Naked Presenter: Delivering Powerful Presentations With or Without Slides

Photo Credit: Don Voaklander via Compfight cc

If we want our presentations to come from a foundation built on persistence, we need time and people.  Whenever I see a poorly constructed presentation, I empathize with that person’s lack of one of those key ingredients.

“Only through mistakes can you see where you’re lacking, where you need to work.”
Garr Reynolds, Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery (2nd Edition)

As a DP teacher, I spend a lot of time preparing my 11th and 12th grade students for oral presentations.  They need to practice making mistakes in front of an audience.  They need to have that experience happen again and again and again.  It doesn’t feel good to make mistakes, but in our classrooms, it should feel safe.  I design several low-stakes speaking opportunities.  A professional basketball player probably misses thousands of free-throws in the gym without an audience before they ever reach that dramatic fourth quarter pressure shot moment.  Sometimes our students just need a ‘shoot around.’

They also need to be exposed to good presentation models.  Lawrence Lessig is a favorite model to share.  This is someone who nails simplicity.  The effort behind his slides is palpable.  Check this out for classic Lessig brilliance.

In July,  I was honored to be a part of the Apple Distinguished Educator showcases at the Institute in Holland.  I was allotted three minutes to share something I learned as an ADE.


Me trying to not look nervous.
Me trying to not look nervous.

You can watch my opening to the presentation here:

My presentation was okay.  I was happy with my layout, my slides, my images, etc.  I wish though that I had just told a story.  The ADE crowd is intimidating, and I felt a huge amount of pressure to say something profound.  I thought I needed an allegory, some huge ‘aha!’ moment.  In trying to find that, I lost my narrative.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
Garr Reynolds, The Naked Presenter: Delivering Powerful Presentations With or Without Slides

I wish I had remembered that we all find our colleagues intimidating.  More importantly, I wish I remembered how much we all love a good story,  we love being involved.

If I could turn back time, I would have told the story of just one image:

TriciaShowcaseADEThe image featured here.

There is a great story behind that image.  I briefly touched upon it, feeling I needed to outline exactly what my message was.  I wish I had worked to unpack that image, to give the audience a narrative they could have tinkered with themselves.  Involving the audience means giving them room to think, room to play with your narrative.  That is what Presentation Zen is all about:  the artful way of inviting your audience in.

“Give them something to think about later” (from the Presentation Zen blog)

What will resonate with your audience?

Will you be brave enough to find out what resonated?

I was too shy to ask for feedback on my ADE one in three showcase.  I felt a wave of relief when it was all over and I didn’t take that decisive step to ask anyone what I could have done differently.  The best presenters push through that awkward haze.  I will be sure to make that a new goal for this year.  Embarrassment fades, but losing out on an opportunity to get better sticks with us unless we act.  Rock balancing only happens when you are willing to let the whole thing fall down…and start all over again.

Photo Credit: neilalderney123 via Compfight cc

Show, don’t tell

The quickest way to lose an audience is to start your slides with a big block of text.  I’m amazed at how often I see this happen in meetings.  Teachers spend so much time putting together amazing presentations for students, but for some reason we often short change our colleagues.  Images engage us, make us wonder, invite us to think.  Inquiry and imagination are both invited in by the powerful images we embed into our work. Give your audience a moment to pause, and try to guess where you might be going with your visuals.

“Every now and then one paints a picture that seems to have opened a door and serves as a stepping stone to other things.”
Pablo Picasso

Relying on pictures forces the teacher to think as a storyteller.  When I am putting my slide deck together I am thinking about mapping out a journey.  What do these ideas look like?  What tone should I set? How can I visualize the learning outcomes?

The added design step pays off.  Students need to practice reading images.  Advertisements bombard us, but when and where do we take the time to help our students unpack the way they work?

Reading images is a big part of what IBDP Language and Literature teachers do.  In our course everything is a text.  We look at approaches to decoding and constructing a wide variety of text types.  We consider the ways biases, stereotypes, and prejudices are overtly spread.  We think about the relationship between words and images.  We analyze fonts.  In short, we think about everything one might have to read in a lifetime and we do our best to prepare our students with a library card for that world.

If we are going to learn to read images, we might as well use images along the way.  A few years ago I fell in love with Haiku Deck.  I loved it when it was just a mobile app.  Now Haiku Deck is everywhere.  This is a good thing.  Haiku Deck operates with Creative Commons images.  Here is the sample deck I use with my DP class when we prepare to ‘read’ an advert:

Reading – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

How can we help our students read images while using images? Can we inspire the next generation of presentations to be? Can we make room for our audience to engage with our topic with an image?

Photo Credit: Tahmid Munaz™ via Compfight cc